- Associated Press - Sunday, April 29, 2018

DUBUQUE, Iowa (AP) - With the one-on-one support of her parents, Lauren Barnes went from a struggling reader to a lover of the written word.

Now, the Hempstead High School sophomore wants to help do the same for local children.

“I think reading is such a humongous skill,” she told The Telegraph Herald . “You need it for everyday life.”

Last month, Barnes launched the I READ program at Multicultural Family Center in Dubuque. It pairs elementary school students with older students that Barnes recruited as tutors.

She sees the effort as a way to pay forward the help that she received when she was younger.

“It’s awesome to do something you love and also help out other people,” she said.

On a recent afternoon, Barnes and two of her classmates gathered around tables in the Multicultural Family Center to read and play games with younger students attending the I READ program.

I READ offers tutoring four afternoons per week, giving participants the chance to practice reading with the help of volunteer tutors.

Students set goals when they enter the program, and tutors fill out a log to track their reading. Children also can participate in challenges to earn rewards for extra reading.

“There’s some kids who struggle more than others, and I think this helps those kids who struggle or maybe just need some extra help,” said Ayden Ubersox, a Hempstead sophomore who serves as vice president of I READ and is a volunteer tutor.

Ten elementary school students currently participate, but Barnes hopes to expand the program to reach more children. She also would like to look at eventually adding other activities to help kids with their reading skills.

So far, though, she is pleased with the program’s progress.

“I think they’ve been going great,” she said. “(It’s) definitely a dream come true.”

When Barnes was in first grade, she struggled with reading and was at the bottom of her class. Her parents worked with her one on one to help her improve, and she eventually advanced to the top of her class.

She still wonders, though, whether some of her classmates were as fortunate.

“I was able to get the help from my parents, but sometimes I wonder if they were,” she said.

Earlier this year, she pitched her idea for a reading program to Multicultural Family Center Director Farris Muhammad and Assistant Director Sarah Petersen.

Center officials could see that she was committed, organized and passionate about the project, Petersen said.

“We felt that she would be a good partner, a teammate, to execute this,” she said.

Barnes visited with the service clubs at her school to recruit tutors. She said she saw the project as an opportunity for young people.

“I wanted my fellow classmates to help me because we could create change in our community, and we could do it right now,” she said.

Ubersox said she was “wowed” to see her friend’s determination to launch the program.

“I think that this is awesome,” she said. “Not many sophomores in high school can say that they’ve started a tutoring program.”

Noah Hansen, a second-grader at Audubon Elementary School in Dubuque, comes to I READ twice a week with his sister Chloe.

Hansen said the program has helped him become a better reader.

“They actually help me work really, really hard,” he said.

Petersen said she is impressed by the program so far and hopes it becomes sustainable. She is likewise impressed by the work Barnes has done.

“It’s very inspiring for someone her age to take this on,” she said.


Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com

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